Friday, November 30, 2012

I Chalan i Anineng

If any of you have ever wondered what a page of the manga Lone Wolf and Cub would look like translated into Chamorro, here is a page from one of my favorite issues.

I wrote about this exchange a few weeks back in my post titled "Lone Wolf and Bamboo Spear."

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gaza






Journalistic Cliches: 'Surgical Air Strikes', 'Rooting Out Terror', and 'Cyber-Terrorism' Cannot Conceal Reality

 
Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. Here we go again. Israel is going to “root out Palestinian terror” – which it has been claiming to do, unsuccessfully, for 64 years – while Hamas, the latest in “Palestine’s” morbid militias, announces that Israel has “opened the gates of hell” by murdering its military leader, Ahmed al-Jabari.

Hezbollah several times announced that Israel had “opened the gates of hell” for attacking Lebanon. Yasser Arafat, who was a super-terrorist, then a super-statesman – after capitulating on the White House lawn – and then became a super-terrorist again when he realized he’d been conned by Camp David; he, too waffled on about the “gates of hell” in 1982.

And we journos are writing like performing bears, repeating all the clichés we’ve used for the past 40 years. The killing of Mr Jabari was a “targeted attack”, it was a “surgical air strike” – like the Israeli “surgical air strikes” which killed almost 17,000 civilians in Lebanon in 1982, the 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, in 2006, or the 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians, in Gaza in 2008-9, or the pregnant woman and the baby who were killed by the “surgical air strikes” in Gaza last week – and the 11 civilians killed in one Gaza house yesterday. At least Hamas, with their Godzilla rockets, don’t claim anything “surgical” about them. They are meant to murder Israelis – any Israelis, man woman or child.

As, in truth, are the Israeli attacks on Gaza. But don’t say that or you’ll be an anti-Semitic Nazi; almost as evil, wicked, unspeakable, devilish and murderous as the Hamas movement with which – again, please don’t mention this – Israel happily negotiated in the Eighties when they encouraged this bunch of mobsters to take power in Gaza and thus decapitate the exiled super-terrorist Arafat. The new exchange rate in Gaza for Palestinian and Israeli deaths has reached 16:1. It will rise, of course. The exchange rate in 2008-9 was 100:1.

And we are myth-making too. The last Israeli war in Gaza was such a stunning success – “rooting out terror”, of course – that their supposedly élite units couldn’t even find their own captured soldier Gilad Shalit, eventually produced last year by Mr Jabari in person.

Mr Jabari was the “No 1 shadowy leader” of Hamas, according to the Associated Press. But how on earth can he be shadowy when we know his date of birth, family details, his years of imprisonment by Israel during which he changed allegiance from Fatah to Hamas? So while I’m on it, those years of Israeli imprisonment didn’t exactly convert Mr Jabari to pacifism, did they? Well, no tears then; he was a man who lived by the sword and died by the sword, a fate which, of course, will not afflict Israel’s warriors of the air as they kill civilians in Gaza.

Washington supports Israel’s “right to defend itself” then claims a spurious neutrality – as if Israel’s bombs on Gaza didn’t come from the United States as assuredly as the Fajr-5 rockets come from Iran.
Meanwhile, the pitiful William Hague holds Hamas “principally responsible” for the latest war. But there is no such evidence that this is true. According to The Atlantic Monthly, the Israeli killing of a “mentally unfit” Palestinian who strayed towards the border may have been the start of the latest war. Others suspect the killing of a small Palestinian boy may have been the provocation. But he was shot dead by the Israelis when an armed Palestinian group tried to cross the frontier and was confronted by Israeli tanks. In which case Palestinian gunmen – albeit not Hamas – may have kicked-off the whole shooting-match.

But is there nothing to stop this nonsense, this garbage war? Hundreds of rockets fall on Israel. True. Thousands of acres of land are stolen from Arabs by Israel –for Jews and Jews only – on the West Bank. There isn’t even enough land left there now for a Palestinian state.

Delete the last two sentences, please. There are only good guys and bad guys in this outrageous conflict in which the Israelis claim to be the good guys to the applause of Western countries (who then wonder why a lot of Muslims don’t like Westerners very much).

The problem, oddly, is that Israel’s actions in the West Bank and its siege of Gaza are bringing closer the very event which Israeli trumpets it fears every day: that Israel faces destruction.

In the battle of rockets – not least Iran’s Fajr-5s and Hezbollah’s drones – a new warpath is being trodden by both sides. It’s no longer about Israeli tanks crossing the Lebanese border or the Gaza border. It’s about rockets and hi-tech drones and computer attacks – or “cyber-terrorism”, of course, if committed by Muslims – and the human dross ripped apart by the wayside will be even less relevant than it has been over the past three days.

The Arab awakening now takes its own path: its leaders are going to have to follow their public’s mood. So, I suspect, is poor old King Abdullah of Jordan. America’s clowning for “peace” on Israel’s side is no longer worth the candle among Arabs. And if Benjamin Netanyahu believes that the arrival of the first Iranian Fajr rockets necessitates the Israeli big bang on Iran, and then Iran fires back – and perhaps at the Americans, too– and brings in Hezbollah – and Obama gets swallowed up in another Western-Muslim war, what happens then?

Well, Israel will ask for a ceasefire, as it routinely does in wars against Hezbollah. It will plead yet again for the undying support of the West in its struggle against world evil, Iran included.

And why not praise the killing of Mr Jabari? Please forget that the Israelis negotiated via the German secret service with Mr Jabari himself, less than 12 months ago. You can’t negotiate with “terrorists”, right? Israel calls this latest bloodbath Operation Pillar of Defense. Pillar of Hypocrisy, more like.

Robert Fisk
Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper.  He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.





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Elites Will Make Gazans of Us All

 
Gaza is a window on our coming dystopia. The growing divide between the world’s elite and its miserable masses of humanity is maintained through spiraling violence. Many impoverished regions of the world, which have fallen off the economic cliff, are beginning to resemble Gaza, where 1.6 million Palestinians live in the planet’s largest internment camp. These sacrifice zones, filled with seas of pitifully poor people trapped in squalid slums or mud-walled villages, are increasingly hemmed in by electronic fences, monitored by surveillance cameras and drones and surrounded by border guards or military units that shoot to kill. These nightmarish dystopias extend from sub-Saharan Africa to Pakistan to China. They are places where targeted assassinations are carried out, where brutal military assaults are pressed against peoples left defenseless, without an army, navy or air force. All attempts at resistance, however ineffective, are met with the indiscriminate slaughter that characterizes modern industrial warfare.

In the new global landscape, as in Israel’s occupied territories and the United States’ own imperial projects in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan, massacres of thousands of defenseless innocents are labeled wars. Resistance is called a provocation, terrorism or a crime against humanity. The rule of law, as well as respect for the most basic civil liberties and the right of self-determination, is a public relations fiction used to placate the consciences of those who live in the zones of privilege. Prisoners are routinely tortured and “disappeared.” The severance of food and medical supplies is an accepted tactic of control. Lies permeate the airwaves. Religious, racial and ethnic groups are demonized. Missiles rain down on concrete hovels, mechanized units fire on unarmed villagers, gunboats pound refugee camps with heavy shells, and the dead, including children, line the corridors of hospitals that lack electricity and medicine.

The impending collapse of the international economy, the assaults on the climate, the resulting droughts, flooding, precipitous decline in crop yields and rising food prices are creating a universe where power is divided between the narrow elites, who hold in their hands sophisticated instruments of death, and the enraged masses. The crises are fostering a class war that will dwarf anything imagined by Karl Marx. They are establishing a world where most will be hungry and live in fear, while a few will gorge themselves on delicacies in protected compounds. And more and more people will have to be sacrificed to keep this imbalance in place.

Because it has the power to do so, Israel—as does the United States—flouts international law to keep a subject population in misery. The continued presence of Israeli occupation forces defies nearly a hundred U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for them to withdraw. The Israeli blockade of Gaza, established in June 2007, is a brutal form of collective punishment that violates Article 33 of the Fourth 1949 Geneva Convention, which set up rules for the “Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.” The blockade has turned Gaza into a sliver of hell, an Israeli-administered ghetto where thousands have died, including the 1,400 civilians killed in the Israeli incursion of 2008. With 95 percent of factories shut down, Palestinian industry has virtually ceased functioning. The remaining 5 percent operate at 25 to 50 percent capacity. Even the fishing industry is moribund. Israel refuses to let fishermen travel more than three miles from the coastline, and within the fishing zone boats frequently come under Israeli fire. The Israeli border patrols have seized 35 percent of the agricultural land in Gaza for a buffer zone. The collapsing infrastructure and Israeli seizure of aquifers mean that in many refugee camps, such as Khan Yunis, there is no running water. UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) estimates that 80 percent of all Gazans now rely on food aid. And the claim of Israeli self-defense belies the fact that it is Israel that maintains an illegal occupation and violates international law by carrying out collective punishment of Palestinians. It is Israel that chose to escalate the violence when during an incursion into Gaza earlier this month its forces fatally shot a 13-year-old boy. As the world breaks down, this becomes the new paradigm—modern warlords awash in terrifying technologies and weapons murdering whole peoples. We do the same in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Market forces and the military mechanisms that protect these forces are the sole ideology that governs industrial states and humans’ relationship to the natural world. It is an ideology that results in millions of dead and millions more displaced from their homes in the developing world. And the awful algebra of this ideology means that these forces will eventually be unleashed on us, too. Those who cannot be of use to market forces are considered expendable. They have no rights and legitimacy. Their existence, whether in Gaza or blighted postindustrial cities such as Camden, N.J., is considered a drain on efficiency and progress. They are viewed as refuse. And as refuse they not only have no voice and no freedom; they can be and are extinguished or imprisoned at will. This is a world where only corporate power and profit are sacred. It is a world of barbarism.

“In disposing of man’s labor power the system would, incidentally, dispose of the physical, psychological, and moral entity ‘man’ attached to that tag,” Karl Polanyi wrote in “The Great Transformation.” “Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as the victims of acute social dislocation through vice, crime, and starvation. Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed. Finally, the market administration of purchasing power would periodically liquidate business enterprise, for shortages and surfeits of money would prove as disastrous to business as floods and droughts in primitive society. Undoubtedly, labor, land, and money markets are essential to a market economy. But no society could stand the effects of such a system of crude fictions even for the shortest stretch of time unless its human and natural substance as well as its business organization was protected against the ravages of this satanic mill.”

There are 47.1 million Americans who depend on food stamps to eat. The elites are plotting to take these food stamps away, along with other “entitlement” programs that keep the poor from destitution. The slashing of trillions of dollars from Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs, given the political impasse in Washington and the looming “fiscal cliff,” now seems certain. There are 50 million people considered to be living below the poverty line, but because the poverty line is so low—$22,350 for a family of four—this figure means nothing. Add the tens of millions of Americans who live in a category called “near poverty,” including all those families attempting to live on less than $45,000 a year, and you have at least 30 percent of the country living in poverty. Once these people figure out that there is no economic recovery, that their standard of living is going to continue to drop, that they are trapped, that hope in the future is an illusion, they will become as angry as protesters in Greece and Spain or the militants in Gaza or Afghanistan. Banks and other financial corporations, handed trillions in interest-free money from the Federal Reserve, meanwhile hoard $5 trillion, much of it looted from the U.S. Treasury. The longer this worldwide disparity and inequality is perpetuated, the more the masses will revolt and the faster we will internally replicate the Israeli model of domestic control—drones overhead, all dissent criminalized, SWAT teams busting through doors, deadly force as an acceptable form of subjugation, food used as a weapon, and constant surveillance.

In Gaza and other blighted parts of the globe we see this new configuration of power. What is happening in Gaza, like what is happening to people of color in marginal communities in the United States, is the model. The techniques of control, whether carried out by the Israelis or militarized police units in our inner-city drug wars, whether employed by military special forces or mercenaries in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iraq, are tested first and perfected on the weak and the powerless. Our callous indifference to the plight of the Palestinians, and the hundreds of millions of poor packed into urban slums in Asia or Africa, as well as our own underclass, means that the injustices visited on them will be visited on us. In failing them we fail ourselves.

As the U.S. empire implodes, the harsher forms of violence employed on the outer reaches of empire are steadily migrating back to the homeland. At the same time, the internal systems of democratic governance have calcified. Centralized authority has devolved into the hands of an executive branch that slavishly serves global corporate interests. The press and the government’s judiciary and legislative branches have become toothless and decorative. The specter of terrorism, as in Israel, is used by the state to divert gargantuan expenditures to homeland security, the military and internal surveillance. Privacy is abolished. Dissent is treason. The military with its mantra of blind obedience and force characterizes the dark ethic of the wider culture. Beauty and truth are abolished. Culture is degraded into kitsch. The emotional and intellectual life of the citizenry is ravaged by spectacle, the tawdry and salacious, as well as by handfuls of painkillers and narcotics. Blind ambition, a lust for power and a grotesque personal vanity—exemplified by David Petraeus and his former mistress—are the engines of advancement. The concept of the common good is no longer part of the lexicon of power. This, as the novelist J.M. Coetzee writes, is “the black flower of civilization.” It is Rome under Diocletian. It is us. Empires, in the end, decay into despotic, murderous and corrupt regimes that finally consume themselves. And we, like Israel, are now coughing up blood.

Chris Hedges
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.


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In Gaza, It’s the Occupation, Stupid

 
“The Palestinian people want to be free of the occupation,” award-winning Israeli journalist Gideon Levy summed up this week. It is that simple. This latest Israeli military assault on the people of Gaza is not an isolated event, but part of a 45-year occupation of the sliver of land wedged between Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, where 1.6 million people live under a brutal Israeli blockade that denies them most of the basic necessities of life. Without the unwavering bipartisan support of the United States for the Israeli military, the occupation of Palestine could not exist.

At the time of this writing, the overall Palestinian death toll of the seven-day assault, dubbed Operation Pillar of Cloud by the Israel Defense Forces, is more than 116, more than half of them civilians, including 27 children and 11 women. Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets from Gaza into Israel, which, to date, have killed three Israeli civilians.



President Barack Obama said on Sunday, “There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So, we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians.”

“No one questions that right,” responds Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and the author of more than 50 books on war, human rights and international law.
“The question is: When and how is it appropriate? Here, as before in 2008, when Israel launched a similar devastating attack on the population and people of Gaza, there were alternatives, and this kind of approach to security ends up with a new cycle of violence at higher levels of intensity. It’s time for the international community to take some responsibility for protecting the people of Gaza.”
Since 2000, according to an article from the British medical journal The Lancet, the Israeli military has killed more than 6,000 Palestinians. They are harassed at checkpoints, imprisoned arbitrarily, denied clean water and sanitation, and suffer from systemic malnutrition, all part of the illegal siege and blockade. World-renowned linguist and author Noam Chomsky recently visited Gaza, describing it as the world’s largest open-air prison.

Amidst reports of an imminent ceasefire, I spoke with Dr. Mona El-Farra in Gaza. She is the health chair of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society of the Gaza Strip, which, as part of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, is protected under the Geneva Conventions. “Airplanes are still in the sky, drones are in the sky, and we can h ear intermittent shelling. People are tense, hoping for a cease-fire, but people don’t want a cease-fire at any cost. We want guarantees from Israel that this will not happen again.”

I asked her what it is like to endure an air raid: “Every other minute, directly in my area, the airplanes are there, and they hit within 100 meters of my building. You can overhear from the other areas, because it is very noisy, F-16s bombing with large explosions. The whole building shakes, and some of my windows have been shattered.” Dr. El-Farra and her 20-year-old daughter hide under their table. She gets only a few minutes sleep at a time. “With every air raid, you can see the fire from my window, the fire and the smoke.”

She also braves the open streets to attend to her responsibilities with the Red Crescent Society. They have set up phone banks to provide psychological counseling to Gazans who are dealing with death and injury, who are living under the stress of continuous air bombardment and the threat of imminent ground invasion. “We have terrified children in Gaza, children who do not have enough water, do not have enough food, no medicine ... with all that, children have no safe place. There is no place safe in Gaza. I don’t know what will happen next if this madness continues. In the last week, it has been like hell for us. It is ugly, it is horrible.”

Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative told me, “It is very hard to think about Israel calling what it is doing defending itself when it is occupying Palestinian territory. It’s collective punishment. We cannot support punishing an entire population because of the policies and attacks of Hamas. It’s illegal.”

The answer is simple, and increases the chances of security on all sides: End the occupation.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman
Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.




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Obama Weaves Web of Deceit on Gaza War

 
When Barack Obama finally spoke out publicly about the Israeli assault on Gaza, at a press conference, he wove an astonishingly thick web of deception and distortion.

I’m no Obama-basher. But when I see him bashing and trashing the truth so blatantly, I have to speak out. I have to express my pain, because I know that his misleading words will increase the risks to my loved ones and fellow Jews in Israel and the much greater risks to the victims of Israeli aggression in Gaza. 

Of course to hear Obama tell it, it’s the Israelis who are the victims. “The precipitating event here that’s causing the current crisis … was an ever-escalating number of missiles” fired from Gaza into Israel, he said. “And there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”

This is the same old tale Americans have been getting from their presidents, politicians, and press for decades: Those nasty Arabs, attacking Jews out of the blue for no good reason that we can see.
Not a word about Israel’s economic blockade, which has inflicted so much misery on the people of Gaza for so many years. Israel has turned Gaza into what Noam Chomsky (who just returned from the Strip) calls “the world's largest open-air prison,” where the only relief from suffering comes from materials brought (or smuggled) across the border from Egypt.

From the Israeli side, there is only a systematic plan “to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger," as one cynical Israeli official put it.

And that’s literally what the Israelis have done. Israel controls all the transport bringing food into Gaza, “an average of only 67 trucks -- much less than half of the minimum requirement [for basic nutrition],” according to Jonathan Cook, a journalist based in Israel, who notes that more than 400 trucks a day were coming in before the blockade began. The result is chronic malnutrition. According to Middle East scholar Juan Cole, over half of of schoolchildren and two-thirds of infants suffer from anemia.

Medicines and medical equipment are in terribly short supply too. People die for lack of treatment. They are not allowed to make the short trip to Israel, with its high-quality medical facilities. Hospitals cannot be built (or rebuilt, after the massive 2008 Israeli attack on Gaza) because building materials are systematically kept from entering Gaza, too.

So the Palestinian victims of a stream of Israeli air attacks -- targeted assassination efforts that too often strike innocent bystanders -- cannot get the treatment they need either.

In 1967 Israel justified its preemptive attack on Egypt by claiming that Egypt’s blockade of one Israeli port was an act of war. How much more, then, is Israel’s ongoing blockade of the whole Gaza Strip an act of war. If Gazans shoot rockets in return it’s a result, not a cause, of the conflict.

In fact, though, the Hamas government in Gaza has been remarkably restrained in its retaliation over the years. When Obama said “a genuine peace process starts with no more missiles being fired into Israel’s territory” he got it exactly backwards. It was Israel that destroyed the chances for peace once again with its assassination of Ahmed Al-Jabari, the leader of Hamas’ military wing, who had enforced previous cease-fires and was central in negotiations for a new one when he was killed.

Why Israel wants to kill chances for peace is a matter for debate. That Israel kills chances for peace -- by killing Palestinians -- just when it seems that a truce might be at hand, or when Hamas has already been strictly observing a truce, is a matter of historical record, which Obama completely ignored.
Instead, he put all the blame on Palestinians and made it sound beyond question that the Israelis are the victims: “We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles. … We will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.

This is the old myth of Israel’s insecurity: poor little Israel, just trying to defend itself against ferocious neighbors who constantly imperil its very existence. The story has been told so often now that most Americans really can’t see the conflict any other way.

Perhaps Obama is equally blind to the true facts and speaks out of naïve ignorance. Or perhaps he knows the truth and is intentionally trying to deceive us. Either way, the result is to perpetuate the suffering -- suffering that he could stop.

It was one final mendacious note when Obama pretended, at his press conference, that he could only sit around and wait to see how things work out: “We are actively working with all the parties in the region. … We’re going to have to see what kind of progress we can make in the next 24, 36, 48 hours.”

In fact “it is clear who is boss,” as the highly respected Israeli foreign policy analyst Anshel Pfeffer recently wrote. Israelis know perfectly well that if Washington says “no” and really means it, the government in Jerusalem must stop. But “so far,” Pfeffer notes, “there is a clear American green light for Israel's operation.”

The American public lets their president give Israel that green light because the public swallows the story told by the president and the press.

Obama did say one true thing: If peace can come “without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that is preferable, that's not just preferable for the people of Gaza, it's also preferable for Israelis because if Israeli troops are in Gaza they're much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded." Both sides suffer from this Israeli-initiated violence, though the people of Gaza suffer by far the most.

Israel’s biggest newspaper reports that peace is possible. Hamas asks only for an end to Israel’s illegal blockade and attacks on Gaza. But Israel is demanding that Hamas must promise to prevent all rocket fire from Gaza (even by the groups beyond Hamas’ control), while Israel retains the right to continue the economic blockade indefinitely.

That’s not change any reasonable person can believe in. Nor is the president’s portrayal of the conflict a picture that any reasonable person should believe in.

Ira Chernus
Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Mythic America: Essays and American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. He blogs at MythicAmerica.us.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Month of Writing Constantly


I feel like I haven't been posting much and I'm not sure how true this is. 

I feel like I've been neglecting several things this month because of work and also because I'm participating in NaNoWriMo. The goal of National Novel Writing Month is to write 50,000 words of your novel before the end of the month. Right now, with five days left to go I am at 35,000 words. I am pretty certain I can make it, but with all my other obligations as well, I'm starting to feel the crunch. 

I wanted to share an early part of my novel. It is titled "The Legend of the Chamurai" and tells the store of how Samurai and Chamorro warriors end up defeating a Spanish invasion of Guam in 1616. This story takes place over 600 years with different makahna or Chamorros with magical and superhuman abilities try to keep hope alive of defeating a mysterious force that will come to obliterate them. Part of the fun of this story is that I get to bring into a story about Ancient Chamorro history all sorts of creative elements. For example, makahnas in my novel don't just have the power to talk to the aniti or the spirits of Chamorro ancestors. They can also manipulate elements, see the future, control animals, creates energy shields and other cool things. 

I'm pasting a passage from early on in the novel below for anyone to check out. 

Wish me luck in finishing the entire 50,000 words by the end of the month!

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"The Legend of the Chamurai: 1.2"

The brothers of ?, were well-known would be challengers. In the Southern part of the island it was believed that they could not be defeated in battle upon the water. Together they had the power to form the water, to channel and direct it. Those who challenged them on the water learned the extent of their power very quickly.

While she was fishing one day, alone, as she did most things, they crept out of the jungle on the shore and struck with a fury. They hit her from two directions with small storms, barely taller than her, but which spun with incredible intensity. The water smashed her body, driving her under the surf. The force of the storm was thus transformed, pressed down into the water above her. As she struggled, the pressure kept her down, the intent to drown her.

As she was drowning the world opened up before her. They say the oldest world in our language is li’e’. Those with gifts can see more than others. They can see our ancestors around us. They can see into the spirit of living things. They can see ropes that bind things together and pull on them to control them. They can also sometimes see time as it looks back at you. The greater the gift, the further one can see.

As she was drowning, a pit opened beneath her and she saw farther forward than ever before. The lives of so many to come lined up before her, and raced by her. As the pit began to blur and ripple away, she saw the island, scrubbed clean of life. Hollowed out as faceless figures used the bones of her people to chip away at the rocks and soil.

She was saved by her brothers, including the Maga’lahi of Hagatna, who were tending to a canoe nearby and saw the attack. They hurled stones at the brothers from ? breaking their thoughts and loosening their control over the water. The brothers rushed into the water and pulled their sister out, water pouring out of her as she struggled to regain herself.

She began to shiver and her older brother called for a guafak to be wrapped around her. She whispered to him through chattering teeth, that she wasn’t shivering because of the cold. Then why he asked?

“I am shivering because I have seen the end of our people.”

Friday, November 23, 2012

Kottura-ta


One of the high points of my life was the conference Famoksaiyan: Decolonizing Chamorro Histories, Identities and Futures. It was a gathering, the first of its kind, which I helped organize in San Diego in 2006. Chamorros living in the United States have for long held gatherings and formed organizations to keep their cultural and family ties. These organizations would focus around shared village ties or the Chamorro calendar, and so each year there are village patron saint fiestas and Liberation Day events from California to Nebraska to Florida.

While these gatherings would be fun and help families keep their ties even across great distances, they were hardly political affairs. They were meant to celebrate Chamorros as a social, cultural and religious group, and so more serious topics affecting Chamorros weren’t usually discussed. Myself and several other Chamorros attending college in the states decided that we wanted to create a space where Chamorros, especially i manhoben, could talk about political concerns such as Chamorro access to health care, militarization, war reparations, decolonization, language revitalization. 

The term “Famoksaiyan” can have many meanings in Chamorro due to the dual meaning of the term “poksai.” We translated it to mean the place to nurture and grow, or the time to paddle ahead, We invited everyone we could get ahold of to come to the meeting. We anticipated only a handful of people would show up, and were amazed when we had more than 70 people, primarily young college age Chamorros attend. The conference was held over two days, divided into different panels, where Chamorro activists and scholars and students presented their research or thoughts on improving Chamorro access to health care, learning about the military buildup, helping more Chamorros get graduate degrees, decolonization as a political and personal process and how to tell our own histories. 

For those who were there it was such an inspiring experience. Some of them had driven hours to get there, others had flown from the other side of the country, all at their own expense. They came because they were looking for a critical community. They felt like they were the only Chamorros in their family, in their community who seemed to care about certain issues. When they would try to talk to family members about political status, they would be told to be quiet or who cares? When they would talk about wanting to learn Chamorro they would be told to learn Spanish or Japanese instead. 

Most everyone who gathered at Famoksaiyan was young, but a few elders did show up. One of them stood out more than the rest. He was a retired soldier, a member of Nasion Chamoru and a passionate advocate for the perpetuating of the Chamorro language. When we all came together for the final session to thank everyone and say goodbye, we decided to sing Fanohge Chamoru. This elder came to the front of the group and told us that we had one more song to sing before we left. Titled “Kottura-ta” it was a song that most there weren’t familiar with, and I admit I only knew the chorus at that time. This elder began to sing it, verse by verse, and the rest of us swayed back and forth, coming in for parts that we knew, but simply enjoying the moment. 

The lyrics to the song are simple but beautiful and it was perfect for a youth meeting. They are both a call to action and a call to respect. In the first verse, the young Chamorros are told that life on this island is hard and so they must respect their teachers and take their education seriously. In the second verse the young people are told to keep firm in their beliefs, especially when demanding your rights. The chorus strings all of this together, reminding them of the importance of their language and culture, and the importance of standing strong and tall. 

In times of difficulty and struggle I remember that moment and I remember those lyrics. For those interested, I have typed them up below:

Famagu’on, atende mo’na eskuelan-miyu
Sa’ i lina’la’ mampos makkat gi tano’-ta
Ekungonk yan en fanmanosge gi sainan-miyu
I ma’estra yan i ma’estro

Kuttura-ta gof impottante
Mo’na siha gi tiempo
I lengguahi-ta mungga ma na’falingu
Prutehi todu mo’na famagu’on i tano’
Ya ta sangan todu, Fanohge Chamoru

Pinasensia todus hit na klasin taotao
Direcho-ta ayu ha’ ta gagagao
Famagu’on na’fitme mo’na hinenggen-miyu
Kuttura-ta ta onra todu i tiempo

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gangjeong Dreams

My pare' Julian Aguon always talks about people on Guam today having no imagination. How they cannot see the world as having any richness or possibility, especially in a local context. They see the world through dependency and inadequacy, and as such everything around them, especially the future is fearful and frightening. You feel like you can't do anything because the delicate threads that you depend upon might snap if you do. 

I agree with this metaphor for understanding things on Guam, but I often use "dreams" instead. Dreams are closely related to imagination. Imagination is what you can see, how you can stretch what you take as given in the world and expand it and push it, and hopefully yourself further. Dreams are what you see as possible, viable or beautiful as you move towards the future. It is a question of desire and what you want. Imagination is what you can want, dreams are an indication of what you want and where you see yourself moving in order to obtain it. 

"The American Dream" is the most famous dream on Guam right now, although Governor Eddie Calvo is pushing hard for something called "The Guamanian Dream." Dreams are meant to be something very intimate to you, so much so that you may not even fully be able to understand them. They may actually consume you and end up dictating things about you and how you live your life, without you even realizing it or understanding it. For example, where do people get their ideas of happiness or comfort from? What are the dreams that they are connected to that give them the direction through which they will strive in life? On Guam so much of the dreaming that people do in the past century is about Americanizing. It is about reaching for the United States and becoming more like the United States. These sorts of dreams can animate you to a certain point, but then they actually start to drain you of life. They actually start to torment and haunt you, especially if there is something so ridiculously obvious in front of you that is telling you they aren't real or they can't come true. 

Dreams are also important in solidarity work and in trying to connect communities, create bridges between them. I often use that metaphor in order to make people understand how I feel we can form real, strong and productive solidarity between for examples communities in the Asia Pacific region that host US bases. The answer is finding a way to share the same dream. To visualize us moving in the same direction towards the same point. Perhaps a more peaceful world? One where controversial bases are closed? Where militaries are used for defensive and not offensive purposes? A world where the interests of the common man trump military industrial complexes?

Whatever form it takes, these dreams are crucial. And it is not that you see yourself or your land or your island in that dream, but that there are others there as well. That you bring others with you and feel that their fate is yours as well. There are a handful of places across the Asia Pacific that I dream regularly about. For years it was Okinawa, as I saw Guam and Okinawa as being so similar, the much discussed military buildup just the most recent connection. Since 2010 I've also felt a connection to Jeju and the village of Gangjeong, where there has been some very passionate resistance to the construction of a joint US and South Korean Navy base.

I've written about it on this blog and I've also posted some information about the protests and crackdowns there. Earlier this year I was asked to write a letter for a Jeju/Gangjeong Solidarity website/newsletter. I've pasted it below.



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by Michael Lujan Bevacqua

For many in the Asia-Pacific region, Guam is “where America’s Day Begins” and a tourist paradise. When there is discussion as to where countries like South Korea or Japan should put unwanted US bases, Guam is always mentioned due to its close proximity to Asia. There is a danger to this sort of discussion as Guam’s status today is very complicated, especially in terms of its relationship to the US military.

Guam is not “a part” of the US, but rather territory “owned” by the US. First taken as in 1898 during the Spanish American War, it has been militarized to the point of becoming “the tip of America’s spear” today, where 28% of its 212 sq. miles host US military bases. The relationship between the US and Guam is a colonial one as the US Federal government can pass any law over Guam even though Guam has no representation in the Federal government and does not even get to vote for the President.

In 2005 the US military first announced a massive troop buildup to Guam that promised to bring billions of dollars to Guam’s economy. But as the years passed and people learned more and more about what the buildup would entail, they began to realize that it would damage the coral reefs, drive up the cost of living, overcrowd the hospitals and schools, and place more land behind military fences, they began to turn against this buildup.

A key point in the struggle is an area in northern Guam called Pagat, which the military planned to turn into living firing ranges for Marines who would be transferred from Okinawa to Guam. Pagat is considered to be a sacred place full of spirits. When the people of Guam realized that this sacred place could be in range of the 10 million bullets the US military planned to fire each year, they began to protest. Pagat became a great symbol for how the people of Guam, their interests and their concerns were not included in this military buildup. As a territory, a contemporary colony, Guam is not supposed to have a say over how its colonizer uses it.

It is for this reason that the solidarity networks across the Asia-Pacific need to be strengthened. So that we can see our islands such as Guam, Jeju and Okinawa as connected through militarism, and work effectively for our collective demilitarization and decolonization.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Maipe/Manengheng

I haven't been painting much lately, but I decided to do something about that last week and ended up painting several faces using watercolors.

These are two that I submitted to the Creative Hands Exhibition at the Isla Center for the Arts.

There titles are "Hot Woman" and "Cold Woman." I really like how they turned out. I hope they accept both pieces as I think they contrast each other nicely.



Saturday, November 17, 2012

Understanding Guam's Colonial Past/Present

History has a way of reminding you that what you take for granted today did not exist in the past, and worse yet, there may have been a point in the past when what you take for granted today was unimaginable. There is one quote from Robert Underwood that sums of this strange way that history can haunt people and deprive them of a feeling of essentialness with the present. It comes from his essay "Teaching Guam History in Guam High Schools" and it talks about the position of Chamorros from 1898-1941 in relation to the United States.

The Chamorro people were not Americans, did not see themselves as Americans-in-waiting, and probably did not care much about being Americans.

The US relationship during that period was unapologetically colonial. The US didn't have a colonial office as other countries did, but instead just colonized Guam through the US Navy and racist and paternalistic rhetoric/policies. The US Navy preached the glories of its nation in Guam, but Chamorros saw through this very quickly because of the way none of those glories were allowed to exist on Guam. The US Navy didn't liberate the people of Guam in 1898 from the Spanish, but actually made it so that for 52 years, they had even less everyday rights than they did under the Spanish.

Because of this Chamorros related to the US during that period through a cautious distance. They did not want to be Americans and did not see themselves as American in training primarily because the US at that time told them they clearly weren't. They made clear in a multitude of ways that Chamorros were inferior to Americans. They were like monkeys, like children. They had to be developed, civilized and whitewashed first before they could be trusted with even the pretense of being something so great as "American."

So Chamorros wanted things from the United States, but learned quickly that political belonging wasn't in the offering. So they focused their efforts on gaining political rights, protections, their own local government. They used rhetoric that sounded very patriotic, and bordered on pathetic and fawning at times, but given the degrading way the US Navy treated them and deprived them of any inherent rights, and even tried to eradicate their language and attack their culture, you can understand if they would couch their requests in respectful obedience.

All of this changed however during World War II and in the years after. When we look at the most objective portrait of that period, it looks so strange and unreal to many Chamorros today. Since the US, their passport, their worldview, their military, their popular culture and so on are so intimately tied to how your average Chamorro sees the world today, it feels impossible that there could have ever been a moment that this wasn't so. And if you are taught about that moment or learn about it, how can you react?

Once you see the thing you thought unbreakable or unquestionable, questioned right before your eyes, what can you do? Ignore it since it was so long ago? Just talk about it since there isn't anything you can really do about it? Or do you try to think of the way it might still exist today?

Until Guam's colonial relationship is resolved then ignoring this colonial history is dangerous and useless. It means that you don't understand the present because you imbue it with a unity and with an inherent purpose that doesn't exist. You want to believe that it couldn't be any different, that the things you feel or take for granted can be taken for granted and that there is truly nothing to see or think about there. In a colonial situation such willful ignorance is tragic and pointless. It means that you continue to exist in a fundamentally subordinate position and of all people you end up working the hardest to keep yourself there.

If you ever want to try to burst this bubble and attempt to grasp that colonial past and see how it relates to the present it isn't difficult. All you need to do is go get yourself a copy of a Guam Newsletter or Guam Recorder. These were the newspapers that were published before the war (there was another newspaper that was published by Chamorros for only two issues). In those newspapers the rhetoric of American colonization was regularly articulated sometimes even by Chamorros themselves. For people not familiar with Guam History but who call Guam home it can be a very surreal experience, thinking about how not too long ago this island was nothing more than an island of primitive brown children in the eyes of the US Navy and much of the United States.

I've pasted below one such article from The Guam Recorder. It talks about how while some people may have complained about how things were better before the US came to Guam, this was clearly not true!

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Ye Good Old Days in Guam – 100 Years Ago

When we hear people remark that the inhabitants of Guam were much better off and probably much happier in the “good old days” before modern inventions, conveniences and facilities for broader education, we cannot help but feel that we would like to put such people back in those good old times.

One hundred years ago, we did not have electricity with which to light our homes, not even kerosene, but had to use the coconut dip. We did not have water or sewer systems, but depended upon the rain; with the inefficient methods then in vogue for saving water, only a few days supply was available when the dry season set in, and we were soon forced to return to wells for brackish and impure water.  We had no saw-mills to prepare lumber for buildings, and such work had to be done laboriously by hand; the consequence was that we lived in houses built of a sort of basket work, and our furniture consisted mostly of hammocks and mats. We have no ice, no cold storage.

Even the land upon which we had to toil for the benefit of our rules did not belong to us, and we received but a small share of what we produced.  The cattle which were permitted to use, also was the property of the Crown of Spain, and we were not allowed to kill or otherwise dispose of it without permission of the Governor. This permission was only granted when the cattle became too old or feeble for use as beasts of burden, and even then we were allowed keep only a small portion of the meat.

Militarism was forced upon us, and for our service we received only ten Mexican dollars per year. This was practically the only cash in circulation on the island, and to make things “better”, frequently the governor owned the only store in which, perforce, we made our purchases, to the benefit of several hundred percent profit to the Governor.

All government work was done by us, for which we received no compensation except a little rice when it could be had. Very often a supply of rice could not be sent from Manila due to lack of shipping. As we were seldom idle from government work, it was not always possible to work the land and produce enough food for our needs; hence our food supply was, at times, very short.

There were few good roads, and we had neither carriages nor automobiles, and seldom even a carabao to ride. There were not transports arriving every month, bringing food, supplies, mail, and news from the outside world. We did not have the advantage of good schools, our studies consisting in learning to read and write, and sometimes not that much. As our prayer books were the only books we had to read, our knowledge of the world beyond the reefs of Guam was very limited.

The boys and girls of a hundred years ago had no opportunity to learn a trade, nor the proper way of caring for a home. They could not prepare themselves for a higher standard of living – a mere existence was all they could hope for. There was no ice plant, no ice cream or soda water, no moving picture theatres, and no money to spend if there had been such things. There was no Guam Recorder to tell people of the happenings of the island.

There were no doctors, no hospitals, no dentists, nor drug stores. Modern surgery was unknown and illnesses or even a cut usually led to fatal results.

How can any believe that people were better off or happier under those conditions than they are today with all the conveniences, amusements and possibilities or a fuller and more contented life. “The good old times” sound fine in a book, but in real life we prefer the present.

Legitimate and Illegitimate Violence

Gaza vs. Israel: Legitimate and Illegitimate Use of Violence in the Western Discourse

 
We hear news that the Israeli state has called up 75,000 reserves and is planning for a ground invasion. I continue to hear loud explosions of air raids surround our home in Saftawi, Gaza. The constant buzzing of the Israeli drone has become part of the backdrop of this weapons battle. I hear news that Hamas shot down two Israeli F-16s. I hear news that an Israeli drone was shot down late last night. I hear the rockets continue to be launched from locations around Gaza and reach the outskirts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The shape of these two forms of violence shows how a state is able to launch a war and how a non-state movement is able to resist it. As bombs continue to rain down on Gaza and rockets continue to break the Iron Dome and make it into Israel, a review of dominant mainstream media sites in the West and Western governments reveals a very skewed understanding on the (il)-legitimate use of violence.




Two days ago, on November 14th 2012, a potential ceasefire between the state of Israel and resistant factions on in the Gaza strip was broken when Israel launched the targeted assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari, the leader of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigade. All Gazans immediately knew what this meant: there would be a retaliation launched by Hamas, a war of bombs and rockets would soon escalate and it would most likely continue. Gazans knew they would be bombarded with shelling from the sea, the sky and potentially land as ground forces would approach Gaza’s eastern border. This is exactly what happened; and two days later this battle of weapons between Israel and Palestinian movements including Hamas is going strong.

However, through the eyes of Western government and mainstream media some of these killing apparatus are regarded as legitimate and others are not. The F-16, the Apache helicopter, the drone, the bomb are weapons that the US, the UK, the EU can understand and relate to. They should as they are large importers of Israeli military and intelligence technology. The rocket, homemade from donkey shit and sugar or fabricated using Iranian technology is a weapon that is foreign to Western discourses on legitimate forms of killing. While both apparatus have maimed and killed civilians and military targets over the last two days, the bomb dropped is a more comfortable thought in the minds of the BBC watcher in England than the rocket being launched from a Palestinian resistance fighter into Israel. These western narratives forget that the rocket is used by the lesser military power in this asymmetrical bomb competition between Israel and Gaza. It neglects that resistant fighters in Gaza don’t use high performance jets or helicopters, not because they elect for a more brute or savage weapon; no, they use the rocket because they don’t have drones who can target identified military leaders from hundreds of meters up. They don’t have the military technology, power or resources to send fighter jets to Tel Aviv or launch a naval battle from the Mediterranean. They do not enjoy the support of the largest military power around the globe to assist it in making its attacks more “surgical”.

Benjamin Netanyahu felt comfortable enough to call Israeli attacks on Gaza as “surgical” (quoted in Al-jazeera “Rockets aim at Tel Aviv as conflict escalates”). The doctors of war proceed with great precision, although I would urge to strongly disagree with Netanyahu’s comments, as the death toll of civilians grows to twenty-nine and over two hundred injured in Gaza. However, Israel feels that it is a waging a professional war on Gaza, which is somehow more legitimate than the Palestinian retaliation attacks. And Western media and government voices support this reasoning, not only through their unbraided political and economic support for Israel, but also through their continued narration of the bomb competition between Gaza and Israel: through Western media and government there are clearly good guys and bad guys. Foreign Secretary William Hague says, “Hamas bears principal responsibility for the current crisis. I utterly condemn rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel by Hamas and other armed groups.” In addition, to this western media and government narratives support a most controversial concept that the Israeli life is worth more than the Palestinian. As Israeli deaths make the headlines, the Palestinian death is always included as a secondary. The killing of civilians in war is wrong and must be avoided at all costs, but unfortunately it continues to happen. Gaza is a 12km by 40km territory populated by 1.5 million Palestinians lives, when an Israeli bomb lands here a civilian will lose its life; this is regarded as collateral damage and is excused on this regard of legitimate mistakes of war. When Hamas or other factions send rockets into Israel and approximate urban areas, civilians are also at risk; however, the Western discursive understanding of this damage to life is regarded as terroristic and the brutal intention of an illegitimate body waging an illegitimate form of war.

All Palestinian resistant movements are referred to as militants or terrorists. Western media sources feel comfortable awarding responsibility for all attacks on Israel as being launched by that “terrorist organisation”: Hamas. Hamas, who although has strongly avoided the topic of elections in recent years, it was once upon time the democratic elected body of Palestine. Hamas was also not responsible for the rockets launched prior reaching the ceasefire on November 14th, 2012 before the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari; Hamas’s military wing leader. The blowing up of one of its leader was bound to bring Hamas into this violence, which at least initially, it was trying to avoid. Many Gazans critique Hamas for not maintaining its resistance stance against Israel. However, Hamas has now forcefully taken up the mode of retaliation following the assassination of its leader; I stress that Hamas’s armed response comes as no surprise. However, Western media sources and governments were too quick to label Hamas attacks as uncalled-for militarist action. The argument that Hamas was compelled to respond to the assassination of one of its leaders does not enter western political or media discussions.

I would like to ask a question of these dominant Western discourses. In their mind who is allowed to legitimately resist against Israel? According to Westerns news media all resistant fighters in Palestine are militants. Israel, as a western favored state, is allowed to target and assassinate Hamas government and military officials: March 2004, Gaza: Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of Hamas, killed by missile strike, April 2004, Gaza: Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, co-founder and leader of Hamas, killed in missile strike, January 2009, Gaza: Said Siyam, senior Hamas commander, killed in air strike and now, November 2012, Gaza City: Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari, commander of Hamas' military wing, just to name a few. This precision killing is regarded as a legitimate form of violence. Hamas or other movements working from within Gaza are legitimate targets because they are regarded as militants or terrorists; their retaliation attacks, however, are regarded as illegitimate because they are from non-state militants or terrorists. So Palestinian military and political leaders can be legitimately targeted but they are not allowed to legitimately retaliate.

Palestinian factions represent a non-state (as we all know way to well Palestine does not have its state yet) and therefore, any form of violence Palestinian movements engage in will be, by de facto, that of a non-state actor. War or violence launched by a non-state actor, is so quickly coupled with militant or terrorist in the western discourse on legitimate uses of violence. Palestine continues to be forbidden its status and capability as a viable state; how then is Palestine meant to resist its occupation, when Israeli leaders wage their own war on Palestine and simultaneously work so energetically and aggressively to dissallow its status as a state? How are Gazan resistant movements, which do enjoy almost unanimous support from the entire Gaza population, meant to resist in a way which is legitimate to western governments? If these Western narratives were more dedicated to their own professed adherence to human rights then they would not be able to stand in defence of Israel. According to the Geneva Conventions a people under occupation have the legal right to resist their occupation; this Article 1 (4) of Protocol 1 stresses that force may be used to pursue the right of self-determination. States and actors who attempts to suppress the Palestinian right to resist violent occupation is in direct contradiction with the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which all legally aim to provide support to those fighting colonial regimes. The Western discourse on the legitimate use of violence needs to sensitise and educate its view: Palestinians have the legal right to resist and that is exactly what they are doing.

Catherine Charrett is a PhD candidate at Aberystwyth University, UK in the department of International Politics and she hold a Masters degree from the London School of Economics. She has been a researcher in security studies and conflict resolution in Vancouver, Barcelona, London and she now finds herself in Gaza, where she was undergoing research into the European response of Hamas’s success in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Elections.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Blame Game

I don't normally go onto websites to read through comments, but I was intrigued by the recent story about Senator Mana Silva Taijeron's husband going ballistic at Unatalan Middle School. After talking to a teacher that works there, it seemed pretty cut and dried as to what happened. The father of the student was clearly angry and upset at the prospect of his daughter being bullied, but his behavior probably shouldn't be excused as aggressive caring. He behaved in a reckless way towards students at the school and towards staff there, and made assumptions about his daughter being mistreated or not being taken care of when he really had no idea what was going on, and didn't want to listen to anyone explain the situation to him.

Since its an election year I expected the comments to be pretty divided between Democrats and Republicans. Then I remembered that on Guam the difference between Democrat and Republicans doesn't really exist, and is generally just based on who your friends and your family are. I didn't see Democrats taking her to task over the behavior of her husband, but neither did I see Republicans coming to her aid. The response was so muddled it was hard to figure out the coordinates of any discussion.

Some responded the way I did, that the father had the right to be concerned by did not have the right to react the way he did and should definitely apologize. It seemed many more however seemed to feel that the real issue here was not the father's behavior, nor the actions of school employees, but instead the system itself, Guam DOE, where children are not being taken of properly in general.

Many a commenter put their own experiences into this and thus excused the behavior of the father because they could imagine the frustration he felt, and they would want to be able to unleash a similar level of righteous, frustrated anger towards the system of GDOE.

It was interesting as people talked about their own experiences, articulating their own personal perspectives on how Guam's schools are failing to see the way in which schools, in particular public schools shoulder so much of the responsibility and blame in a society.

Communities are sustained through many things. Writers of nationalism and social contracts propose different things as being the stuff that can make disparate isolated human beings, see themselves as part of something greater, something more substantial. Media can make people feel connected. Shared culture, shared language. Dreams and memories of sacrifices. Even seductive nostalgia can have its place in this formation of a community. But the idea of "blame" plays a significant role as well, namely the game of where to place it.

Public schools, represent the state of education. Tax payer money goes into them, the common people attend them, as opposed to those who are able to afford more elite or alternative options .The schools are a barometer for a society. If there is faith in the schools and faith in those who work in them, it is derived from a general idea that one generation is taking good care of the next and everything should be good looking towards the future.

But at the same time, the educational system is front and center in terms of how people organize the blame for their society. The teachers in particular take a heavy social burden. They are the ones who are responsible for the living and breathing and learning future. The blame sticks to them most of all since if there are problems with students or schools, it must be them.

I am always amazed at how we can see the true priorities of a country in how they treat this frontline of society. For example, in the Great Mongolian empire, certain people in certain occupations were exempted from taxes. The reason being because their job was considered to be very important to the Empire and so they should be treated better than others. Doctors and teachers were both included as such privileged classes.

Given that teachers are the one's most responsible for how the future will emerge and whether it will be with educated or ignorant actor, you might think that modern societies would elevate the status of their teachers and treat them like royalty. This is not the case. While Veteran's are elevated and treated as if they are intrinsically better than the rest of society because of their choice in profession, this does not extend to teachers. Instead they often see themselves attacked from all sides, for being too comfortable, too well paid, too lazy and so on.

This is part of the beauty of public school systems, at least from an ideological blame game perspective. Schools help relieve the everyday burden of parents and families or educating their children, but they also relieve the stress and blame for how children grow and sometimes don't develop. So many teachers have complained to me over the years about how most parents don't come to parent teacher conferences, and many that do become belligerent or upset when anything critical is mentioned about their child. They get very defensive about their kids. While you might say this is understandable given that this is their child and they are just being overprotective.

The problem with overprotectiveness is that it is usually yourself that you are protecting not your child. You act in overprotective ways to protect your child, but also to put your mind at ease, to make things easier on yourself. The overprotective ways that parents can act are sometimes a result of them not wanting to take responsibility for their child's failures or problems, and therefore they attempt to fix the blame on the teacher instead.

I am not saying that you cannot blame teachers for anything, but there is a difference between seeking to fix problems and looking to warehouse your frustration or anger over things in your society in the classrooms of a school. For so many people, schools are such an easy target. You can speak negatively about them, you can criticize them, you can hate them and the people who work in them, and few people will challenge or questions you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Anthem for Doomed Youth

The perfect poem for Veteran's Day.

A perfect reminder about how Veteran's day shouldn't be about unconditionally supporting war and warriors.

It should be a conversation about war, its costs, and whether or not it is worth it.

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Anthem for Doomed Youth

By Wilfred Owen
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
      Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
      The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Monday, November 12, 2012

2012 GPSA Coming Soon!

I'm writing up my 2012 Guam Political Sign Awards.

For those who need a reminder about what this entails, I thought I would post below my awards for the last election, in 2010.

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2010 Guam political sign awards

The political signs are slowly getting taken down around island and so before we forget that for close to a year our island was covered in a sea of slogans, promises, and smiling faces, Id like to hand out my 2010 Guam Political Sign Awards. These awards are decided by me and me alone, there is no panel of judges who have debated or voted on them.

The categories are neither fair, nor uniform, and they change for each election depending on what signs are out there. These awards are meant to be fun and funny, and rarely serious. These are not meant to attack any candidates, but are instead given to celebrate how invested our island can get into our elections, but also lament the fact that so much of our democracy on island is determined by who has the best, most interesting or least scary signs.

Without any further ado, here is a list of some of this years winners

Best Positive Use of a Photo Which Could Be Used by an Opponent in a Negative Way: Speaker Judi Won Pat for her black and white image signs. While the image is meant to convey, both the seriousness (black and white) of Won Pat, and her smile is meant to convey her friendliness, this image could just as easily be used in an attack ad on her. I can already image the voice-over, Judi Won Pat, smiled as she signed away our childrens future

Mirror, Mirror Award  Shared winners for this award, which goes to a candidate with the best sign which features him and his family, and then another image of himself. Both Dennis Rodriguez and William Taitague had signs where they are sitting happily with their family, and in front of them looms, some sort of mysterious, possibly evil stranger who looks exactly like the candidate! It makes you wonder if this stranger is an evil twin, a nefarious clone or a taotaomona, and which one, if any, is the real candidate!

Senator in a Box Award  The body language in a political sign is extremely crucial. Your image will be frozen in a pose for several months, fading by the side of the road or in peoples front yards and so you must pick a pose of yourself which will be able to send the right messages to those who glance at it. Everything from your smile, your hair, your clothes, to the position of your hands can make a crucial difference as to whether or not, at the most superficial level, you appear to be trustworthy. Most candidates pick images of themselves with their backs straight, standing tall, embodying the Chamorro word for forthright and honest, tininas. The signs for Senator Frank Blas Jr. stand out because of the way he appears to be hunched over, bending over or looking down in his image. One has to wonder what is the story behind his hunched-over posture? It almost appears that
Senator Blas is trapped in a box-like dimension like the villain Zod from Superman II, and only your vote can free him from this tiny prison!

The Family Reunion Award  It is a normal thing for candidates to name every chance that they get their finanaan familia, or to which different clans on Guam they belong to. They do so, first because it can help you understand where they come from and who has helped raise them, and second, it might help you collect a few votes from distant cousins. When you vote on a ballot, most candidates put either their slogan or list their family nicknames there, and this is helpful for someone like myself who always insists that at least one person in the Legislature each session be from the cabesa clan. As Guams electoral and racial landscape changes this will become less and less common and so we should celebrate it now before it disappears completely and is just replaced by generic slogans. The family reunion award goes to the candidate who includes the most family names on their signage thus transforming it into a mini-family reunion. This years winner is Joe Shimizu San Agustin, for his use of four of his clan names, candido, queto, lencho and kacha, in his larger signs.

Bromance Award  The higher the office, the more danger there is in your signs staining and stigmatizing your candidacy, rather than them helping you, and so there is always an impulse to play it safe and simple rather than try to be more bold or creative. The signs for Calvo/Tenorio and Gutierrez/Aguon represented a clear contrast. By the end of the election, CT had a set of surprisingly generic signs, the first exhibiting the Chamorro tendency to combine parents names in order to name your child (their offspring aptly named, vote) and the second, the typical two candidates staring and smiling ahead sign. GA started off simple, borrowing elements of Obamas successful campaign, and ended up creating some of the most interesting and confusing signs of the election. They packed signs with huge crowds of supporters, and also introduced the walking mafia set of signs, which had the two candidates ambiguously walkingsomewhere, perhaps towards a better future? The ultimate GA sign had to be the late introduction of their diamond shaped signs, which featured the candidates clasping hands and arms, and sharing a tender, bromantic moment.

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